Music Shapes Us - Part I

The Quickening Art

Ever since I worked with Dr. Sylvain Moreno, a neuroscientist who has been able to prove that music can increase children’s IQ, I’ve been fascinated by the way music impacts the brain. Dr. Moreno also does research on the ways music can be used to support aging brains. While the results are not as conclusive as they are in children, it seems pretty clear that music memory lingers when other cognitive functions decline.

In this well-known clip, narrated by Oliver Sacks (the author of Awakenings), a dementia patient called Henry is given an iPod containing music he loves. As soon as the headphones are placed over his ears and the music begins, his face lights up, his eyes open wide, and he begins to sing and sway to the music. Even more extraordinary is the fact that even after the headphones are removed Henry is able to keep communicating and answer questions. Let’s watch:

As Dan Cohen, a social worker who creates personalized iPod playlists for people in elder care facilities, puts it, “Even though Alzheimer's and various forms of dementia will ravage many parts of the brain, long-term memory of music from when one was young remains very often. So if you tap that, you really get that kind of awakening response. It's pretty exciting to see."

Henry and others like him are the subjects of a 2014 documentary called, “Alive Inside.” Please take a moment to watch and listen to video accompanying the film’s promotion here:

The Alive Inside Foundation, a spin-off from the music program and film, has a project in which teens can sign up to learn about the role music can play in helping those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This short video chronicles some of the their work and the important life lessons they are learning from the elders.

Finally, I’d like to share this extraordinary video of Marta C. González a former ballerina who comes alive when some of her favorite music is played for her. Let’s watch.

NOTE: There are many discrepancies surrounding the video that you might find intriguing. You can read about them here:

So Tell Me:

  • What songs would you put on your song list to be played if you were to develop dementia?

  • Have you ever known anyone with dementia or Alzheimer’s?

  • What do you think is the best way to manage the care of those with dementia? I ask because I visited an intergenerational school in Ohio run by a husband and wife. The husband, Peter Whitehouse, is a world-renowned neuroscientist who brings his dementia patients to the school to interact with and teach the children. Here is his TEDTalk entitled, “Alzheimer's and the Value of Inter-Generational Schools.”

Let the discussion begin!


Copyright 2021 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.